THE NUMBER of winding-up petitions served to companies by HM Revenue & Customs has risen 57% in the last year as the department seeks to maximise its tax take.
HMRC presented 5,302 in 2011/12, compared to 3,367 in 2010/11, hardening its previously sympathetic stance towards companies hit by the recession, according to top 20 firm Wilkins Kennedy.
Instead, the firm says, HMRC uses the liquidation process to reclaim debts from businesses which cannot pay taxes due.
The jump coincides with a tightening of access to the tax deferral scheme Time to Pay (TTP), which was extended in order to aid businesses during the recession.
HMRC stopped publishing TTP statistics in 2011, with final figures showing an increase in applications to use Time to Pay and an increasing number of applications rejected by HMRC.
"HMRC does not like being used as a ‘lender of first resort', and is keen to dispel the image that it is a soft touch or that the unauthorised late payment of taxes is an acceptable way for a business to resolve cash flow problems," said Wilkins Kennedy tax partner Anthony Cork.
"Businesses need to be very careful about getting on the wrong side of HMRC. These figures show HMRC has become increasingly unwilling to compromise in its pursuit of missing taxes."
For its part, a spokesman for HMRC said the aim "is not to wind up companies or make individuals bankrupt, but to collect, as efficiently as we can, the debts that are due".
He added: "HMRC only initiates winding-up or bankruptcy action where it believes this is the best course of action to protect the interests of the Exchequer in respect of a particular debt. We do not take such action lightly.
"Anyone who is struggling to pay an HMRC debt should call us. HMRC has an outstanding track record in supporting those who are experiencing genuine difficulty paying their debts, and this approach will continue."
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